Bridging Nitrogen Budgets from Field to Watershed Scales for Region-Specific Solutions to Achieve Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Targets


Bin Peng, Crop Sciences
Dr. Andrew Margenot, UIUC Crop Sciences
Kaiyu Guan, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences


Nitrogen (N) is an essential nutrient for crop growth and productivity. Nitrogen loss from agricultural landscape not only wastes this previous farming input, but also affects water quality. There is thus an urgent need to improve overall nitrogen use efficiency and manage nitrogen loss from agricultural landscapes – which include but are not simply crop fields – for increasing both agronomic production efficiency (and thus net economic return of farming) and water quality. Better understanding of the nitrogen cycle by bridging the nitrogen budgets from field to watershed scale is the foundation to solve the nutrient loss reduction challenge.

This project will use a systems approach to address the systems-level problem of nitrogen loss reduction over tile-drainage agricultural landscape in Illinois. Specifically, we propose to create a network of tile drainage research sites and watersheds (TD-Net) covering the latitudinal gradient of Illinois tile-drained landscape. We will reconstruct the nitrogen budgets at both field and watershed levels over four representative tile-drained research farms scaling up to the encompassing watersheds by combining multiple streams of measured and observational data. We will further integrate the measured and observational data with advanced process-based models through systematic data-model integration to understand the sources, fates, and transit times of nitrogen such that we can attribute the nitrogen loss sources and lag time. The observation-constrained models will then be used to optimize the conservation planning and identify priority areas at watershed scale such that nutrient loss reduction outcome from conservation investment can be maximized. We will also conduct a series of integrated extension and education efforts in-person and virtually to communicate the research outcome to farmers, watershed managing specialists, and other stakeholders.

Project Resources

Fact Sheet

Status Update